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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Best and brightest

Poynter's Leading Lines column has some terrific information today about encouraging the best and brightest in our nation's newsrooms. Although the thought of working at a daily still holds allure for me, I also quickly come back to the main reason I'm on my own—I keep my own hours, choose projects that interest me (typically of more magazine length) and have the flexibility to stretch my writing muscles in different ways.

I once had a conversation with a daily journalist who looked askance when I mentioned that I missed the excitement of a newsroom. "Are you crazy? You miss being overworked, underappreciated and underpaid?" When you put it that way, I think I'll stay where I am, thank you.

But that doesn't mean I lack concern about the state of the profession. Last April, Cleveland SPJ co-sponsored a visit from Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard University. I did a lot of research about the Nieman Fellowship before his arrival and nearly flew out of my chair with excitement at the possibility of what it offers journalists. Nine months of study at Harvard! Bring the spouse and kids along. I couldn't think of a better, more enriching opportunity.

So it was with great interest that I read Giles' comments about attracting and keeping leadership . He wrote: "Rare is the journalist who is encouraged to seek advanced education in the law, the sciences, economics, or medicine. Those fortunate enough to win Nieman or Knight fellowships do so on their own motion, often with reluctant support from the front office where the thinking is that the newsroom cannot spare their labors for the nine months of an academic year."

Most of the solid journalists I know are infinitely interested in the world and how it works, in how information is delivered and how to deliver it better, and in learning new things and sharing those with the world. The perception of journalists is that we are cynics. I prefer to view us as frustrated idealists. We see problems with the world, and our own organizations, and we want to point them out so people can fix them.

As an independent, I'm not going to get sponsored to pursue any of these exciting opportunities. After all, my front office is the homefront. But I'm hopeful that I can make my own enrichment. I hope I can see things for myself, read about people, places and cultures and create my own fellowship of sorts by surrounding myself with engaging people, willing to share their knowledge. And I hope that venturing just beyond my comfort zone will lead to creativity and personal development.

As an aside, I laughed out loud when Gregory Favre of Poynter subtitled his column, "Who is Lou Grant?" It simply can't be that an entire generation of journalists doesn't remember that show. At 36, I'm still fairly young, but I remember watching both Lou Grant shows as a kid. I wanted to be Billie, the sassy red-headed female reporter on the drama. And I've been told I have a certain Mary Tyler Moore-quality about myself. In fact, I've even promised an MTM moment on Fifth Avenue in NYC in September. You'll just have to be there...

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